Can you imagine being sentenced to prison for a crime you didn’t commit? Unfortunately, wrongful convictions happen from time to time, subjecting normal, every day people to long prison sentences for crimes like theft, arson, and even murder. For example, Joseph Sledge spent “37 years in prison for crimes he did not commit.” Now he’s set to receive $4 million after Bladen County and insurance companies agreed to settle a wrongful conviction lawsuit that Sledge filed against the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office. But what happened? How was he found guilty and imprisoned for nearly four decades?
For starters, Sledge was convicted and imprisoned for the “1976 murder of Josephine and Aileen Davis.” According to court records, the “mother and daughter were stabbed to death during an apparent robbery and sexual assault at their Bladen County home.” As a result of his wrongful conviction, Sledge filed lawsuits against Bladen County Sheriffs’ Office, Columbus County clerk’s office, and the SBI. However, shortly after the county agreed to the $4 million settlement, Sledge’s attorneys “filed paperwork dismissing his lawsuit against the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office.” The other lawsuits are all pending and claim the agencies “failed to locate evidence from his case in their possession so Sledge could prove his innocence through DNA testing.”
In response to the recent settlement, Burton Craige, a civil attorney for Sledge, issued the following statement:
“For years, Joseph Sledge begged the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office, the SBI, and the Columbus County Clerk’s Office to release the evidence that would prove his innocence. For years they refused, defying four court orders. Finally, in January 2015, thanks to the extraordinary efforts of Chris Mumma, the North Carolina Center on Actual Innocence, and the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, Mr. Sledge was exonerated and released, having spent 37 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. Mr. Sledge then sued those who refused to produce the evidence that exonerated him. With this settlement, Bladen County has taken responsibility. Now the SBI and the Columbus County Clerk’s Office need to do the same.”
So how will the settlement be paid out? How much has the county covered? What about the insurance companies? According to the settlement agreement, the county “has paid $900,000 of the settlement to Sledge while the insurance companies paid the remaining $3.1 million.” Once attorney’s fees and other expenses are paid, “the remaining money will be put into a trust fund for Sledge’s benefit.”
How has Bladen County responded to the settlement? Well, the following statement was issued:
“Bladen County admit[s] no liability of any sort whatsoever, and that said payment and settlement in compromise of a disputed claim is made to terminate further controversy…”